Many people over the age of 60 can remember their mothers compelling them to drink a spoonful of castor oil every day. It is probably not a fond memory, as castor oil tastes terrible. This is, however, an example of something that tastes bad but is good for you.
Castor oil is pressed from the seeds of the castor plant and has been used since ancient times to treat constipation and induce labor. It is a staple of Ayurvedic medicine. There are effective topical uses as well.
This thick oil has been used to treat menstrual cramping, minor skin lesions, sore muscles and joints, bruises, and as a hair treatment. There have been many studies of castor oil and modern science doesn’t fully understand how it works.
Here are some of castor oil’s constituents found specifically to support human health.
The most active component of castor oil with anti-inflammatory effects was found to be a “capsaicin-like, non-pungent anti-inflammatory agent suitable for peripheral application”. (1) Interestingly, capsaicin is the phytochemical in cayenne pepper that makes it spicy; in research, this compound has been found to be analgesic and anti-inflammatory.
This compound is a fatty acid derived from ricinoleic acid in castor oil. It has been found an effective treatment of the fungi that cause ringworm, athlete’s foot, diaper rash, prickly heat, and jock itch.
Castor oil has been shown to promote regeneration of hair and preventing its loss; the mechanism of why this is so is supposed to be the stimulation of prostaglandin in hair follicles. (2, 3) Applied to hair and skin, fatty acids soothe and promote the production of collagen and elastin. (4) Vitamin E reduces the appearance of scarring.
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Research investigating castor oil-based bandaging for protecting and healing wounds has been very promising due to the oil’s antibacterial properties. (5)
Applying a castor oil pack topically to the lower abdomen has been shown to ease symptoms of constipation—even when a chronic condition. (6)
Immune System Impact
“The leading theory of how castor oil positively affects the immune system is via an increase of T-cells in the skin and augmentation of prostaglandins. The T-11 cell increase represents a general boost in the body’s specific defense status. Lymphocytes are white blood cells that can be divided into 2 major types: B-cells and T-cells. B-cells make antibodies that attack bacteria and toxins, whereas T-cells originate from bone marrow and the thymus gland and are responsible for attacking and killing a variety of invaders such as viruses, fungi, and cancer cells. T-11 cells are responsible for producing specific antibodies for our immune system. The skin T-cell theory postulates that castor oil triggers T-lymphocytes in the skin, causing them to activate a local and/or systemic immune reaction.” (7)
Castor oil packs have also been found to support thymus gland function. (8)
For a whole-body immune support treatment that soothes, hydrates, and fortifies your skin, try a castor-oil bath—you don’t have to drink it.
Castor Oil Bath
Add 1-2 cups of castor oil to hot water and swish to disperse. Submerge your entire body (including your hair!).
What you’ll achieve with the bath:
- Fade scars and stretch marks
- Improve digestion
- Reduce inflammation
- Relieve pain and aches
- Neutralize skin conditions (acne, dry skin, psoriasis, sunburn, etc.)
- Strengthen, soften, repair, and condition hair
- Stimulate and support the immune system
- Relaxation and a feeling of wellness
As with any new oil, if you have never used castor oil before, place a little on the inner side of your arm and wait 24 hours to check for sensitivity before use.